Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Inflammable

Sometimes I worry I won't be able to think of a word for a Wednesday Word Up post and then I'm always distracted by a cool word and there you have it. This week it's one I've loved for a long time: inflammable. I love it because it means both the propensity for bursting in flames, and also not bursting into flames.

I know, right? How cool is that?

The Word Detective (a wee gem of a site) says:
The Latin prefix "in," while it sometimes means just "in" (as in "inflammable"), more often turns up in English words meaning "not" (as in "invisible" -- "not visible"). After World War Two, safety officials on both sides of the Atlantic decided that folks were too likely to see "inflammable" and decide that the word meant "fireproof," so various agencies set about encouraging the revival of "flammable" as a substitute. The campaign seems to have worked, and "inflammable" has all but disappeared.
Oh no, it has NOT. And people still aren't sure which meaning you intend. If you walk down the street and see a guy lighting a tank on fire that says clearly on the side, "inflammable liquid" tell me you're not going to run.

If you want to say that something is not capable of catching on fire, use another word like "non-flammable" or "flame-resistant" or "fire-safe." This has obvious safety reasons. You wouldn't want to be a kid's jammy manufacturer and put "inflammable material" on the tag and not have parents know what that means. Likewise, if you want to say it will burn, use "flammable" or "burn, baby, burn."


So when DO you use inflammable? When you want to confuse people, obvs. Otherwise, you are allowed to use it for both meanings.

4 comments:

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

What a fun word to highlight! But you've got me thinking about "invisible." It's a rather silly word, isn't it? Great food for thought!

Simon C. Larter said...

I'd say something typically nemesisy and arson-related, but I fear the FBI botswould discover my comment and, despite my host of IP-spoofing tricks and multiply-routed internet access points, track it back to something that could be tied to my person, so I won't.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

Wow, I think I will just leave "inflammable" alone - I'd never realized just how confusing it is. It doesn't help that it sounds a bit like "enflame."

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

Inflammable reminds me of demandatory, which my dad says. He seems to think it means the same thing as mandatory. I'm not convinced. However, I'm now second guessing my opinion. Sort of.

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